The aromatic resins of frankincense, myrrh and copal are known for their spiritual and religious properties and have been used for centuries. These natural substances are harvested from living trees through a process called tapping.
Resins are burnt on charcoal disks to produce pleasant, long-lasting fragrances. For those interested in making sticks, trails or cones it is necessary to grind the ingredients to a fine powder before use.
Resin incense has a long and fragrant history, used for purification, religious purposes and heightening spiritual perceptions for thousands of years. Plant resins are dried sap that releases its aroma when burned, most often on charcoal discs that do not contain saltpeter.
This allows for a natural smell completely free of additives that are sometimes used in stick incense. This also gives the user more control as you can easily mix different resins together, creating a scent that is uniquely your own.
Early in 2016 I spent a week and a half in remote Samburu County, North Eastern Kenya sourcing native resin bearing Frankincense and Myrrh trees with semi-nomadic pastoralist women. These women collect the resins for themselves and earn a sustainable and fair return by cutting out middlemen from their supply chain. The resulting incense is not only an aromatic delight but also helps heal and rejuvenate the mind. It is an essential part of their shamanic rituals.
Resins are harvested from the sap bark roots or wood of aromatic trees, shrubs and herbs. They are pure and natural incense without any additives, so the aroma is stronger than what you’d get from traditional stick or cone incense. This type of incense has a rich history of use for purification, ceremonial purposes, healing and heightened spiritual awareness.
To make loose resin incense, grind your ingredients using a mortar and pestle (absolutely required for all gums and resins) or a hand-crank grinder to produce a very fine powder, roughly the consistency of sea salt or coarse sand. It helps to freeze slightly gummy resins like labdanum or elemi before grinding for easier, faster and more effective grinding.
Place your ingredient(s) in a heat-safe dish or bowl with a charcoal disk (specialized resin burners are available, but an ethnic censer will also work) and wait for the charcoal to start burning. Once it begins to smoke, add your desired amount of resin to the disc and ignite.
Burning resin incense is a ritual that has been practiced for millennia and is an important aspect of shamanism. It can be used to ward off bad energies, bring good spirits into the home or to heighten spiritual perceptions.
Resin incense can be used on its own or mixed with other aromatics such as frankincense, myrrh and benzoin for specific purposes. For example, Black Ethiopian Resin has floral scents that can evoke love and peace, while Copal has woody aromas perfect for cleansing spaces or for bringing in new energy.
To burn resin incense, you will need a pure charcoal tablet and a bowl or urn that can withstand the heat of burning coals. It is recommended to use tongs to handle the charcoal as it can get very hot and may burn if handled with bare hands. Place a few grains of resin on top of the charcoal and allow it to burn and release the scent.
Resin incense lasts a long time and can be stored away from direct light. Unlike smudge sticks, sachets or powders which can degrade over time, resin blocks and cones may keep their scent for years.
A staple in churches, temples and mosques for millennia, the aromatic oils of these woody beads of hardened tree saps are known to cleanse, purify and harmonise the atmosphere. They have also been used by shamans to help with healing, spiritual awareness and interaction with the spirit realms.
To burn resin incense, start by placing a small amount of charcoal in your chosen urn/burner. Light the charcoal using a lighter and wait until it self-ignites (use tongs or a set of tweezers for safety – burning charcoal is hot and can burn fingers!) Once the charcoal is lit, let it warm up for a few minutes and turn gray around the edges. Then place your desired resin on top of the charcoal and let it begin to smoke.